On the morning of April 20, 1914, gunfire broke out at the Ludlow tent colony. The ensuing eleven-hour gun battle between the state militia and the strikers left at least twenty dead, including two women and twelve children. Later dubbed the “Ludlow Massacre” by union advocates, this tragedy capped one of the darkest chapters in American labor relations.

At nearly 9:00 that morning, Mary Thomas O’Neal and her children finished their breakfast of oatmeal within the flaps of one of the many union-issued tents at the Ludlow tent colony. The seven-month coal miners’ strike against the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CFI) had not been as successful as the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had initially expected, but hopes of a satisfactory settlement remained high. Most troops from the Colorado National Guard had been recalled a week earlier by Governor Elias Ammons, leaving only a small company of militiamen under the command of Lieutenant Karl E. Linderfelt.

While O’Neal cleaned up breakfast, Linderfelt and union leader Louis Tikas argued on the ridge overlooking Ludlow. Below, strikers felt increasingly uneasy as Linderfelt’s soldiers began pointing machine guns and cannons directly at the camp. A few strikers, fearing an attack, ran towards a more defensible position. Militiamen set off one of three warning bombs, but no one in the camp knew that the loud explosion was just a warning. Assuming that they were under attack, strikers began shooting back. Louis Tikas’s voice boomed over the megaphone, “All women and children, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” As women and children fled from the camp, militiamen tried to hasten them along by shooting at their heels. One of these bullets struck O’Neal in the wrist. Though compelled to flee, the firefight at the camp had become so intense that many chose to remain bunkered down rather than face certain death. Twelve-year-old Frank Snyder was in his parents’ tent, clutching his three-year-old sister, when a bullet struck his head and killed him instantly.

Nearby, three women and eleven children sought refuge in a tent’s subterranean cellar. While they huddled together, praying that the battle would stop, the militia looted and then set fire to the tents. The fire above the women and children sucked the air out of the cellar, suffocating everyone but Mrs. Alcarita Pedregon. By April 21, more than twenty people lay dead on the high Colorado Plateau. More than 400 strikers were later indicted on charges of murder and other crimes, while all court-martialed militiamen were exonerated.

Images

Massacre during Colorado Coal Strike at Ludlow, Colorado
Massacre during Colorado Coal Strike at Ludlow, Colorado The cover of the socialist magazine The Masses depicts striker William Snyder, whose twelve-year-old son Frank had been killed in the gunfire. The events at the Ludlow tent colony shocked people around the world, as this graphic illustration captures. Many Marxists believed that the Colorado Coalfield Strike was the first event in a civil war that would ultimately end in the overthrow of the United States government and the implementation of a new socialist order. Source: Sloan, John, from the Library of Congress. “Massacre during Colorado Coal Strike at Ludlow, Colorado,” available at https://www.loc.gov/item/2016652761/.
Armed Strikers Ludlow Strike Trinidad
Armed Strikers Ludlow Strike Trinidad The strikers in the Colorado coalfields were well-armed and well-trained. Many had fought in the Balkan Wars, the Spanish-American War, or other local conflicts. Armed strikers like those pictured here exchanged gunfire with the militia on numerous occasions. Were it not for the Ludlow Massacre, more militiamen would have died than strikers or their families. Source: Survey Associates, Inc., from Wikimedia Commons. “Armed Strikers Ludlow Strike Trinidad,” available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Armed_strikers_ludlow_strike_trinidad.jpg.
Machine Gun on Water Tower Hill at Ludlow
Machine Gun on Water Tower Hill at Ludlow One of three machine gun nests overlooking the Ludlow tent colony. This photograph was captured just minutes before the firing began. Source: From the Denver Public Library Digital Collections. “Machine Gun on Water Tower Hill at Ludlow,” available at http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/35486/rec/1.
Object ID 89.451.4862
Object ID 89.451.4862 Red Cross rescuers survey the remains of the Ludlow tent colony, April 1914. Source: From History Colorado. “History Colorado Online Collection,” available at http://5008.sydneyplus.com/HistoryColorado_ArgusNet_Final/Portal/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p_BasicSearchResults=829dd3c5-9f3e-4364-a0f8-f8e25abfecd6+%5c%7c.
Ruins of Ludlow Restored
Ruins of Ludlow Restored Red Cross rescuers search in vain for any survivors at the Ludlow tent colony, April 1914. Source: Bains News Service, from Wikimedia Commons. “Ruins of Ludlow Restored,” available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10277066.
Object ID 89.451.4858
Object ID 89.451.4858 The funeral procession of union leader Louis Tikas “The Greek.” Tikas was killed when Lt. Karl E. Linderfelt broke the butt of his rifle against the skull of his prisoner. Tikas was then shot in the back three times by other soldiers, who then stomped on his dead body. Source: From History Colorado. “History Colorado Online Collection,” available at http://5008.sydneyplus.com/HistoryColorado_ArgusNet_Final/Portal/Portal.aspx?component=BasicSearchResults&record=6fd8a0a9-aa42-4798-9e91-b4a627103659.
Object ID 89.451.4867
Object ID 89.451.4867 Hundreds of people line the street in Trinidad, Colorado, as the funeral processions of Ludlow victims paraded through town. Source: From History Colorado. “History Colorado Online Collection,” available at http://5008.sydneyplus.com/HistoryColorado_ArgusNet_Final/Portal/Portal.aspx?component=BasicSearchResults&record=0a929570-1188-45c3-b9e1-9ff1e249cd2a.

Location

Metadata

Natalie Larsen, Brigham Young University, “The 1914 Ludlow Massacre,” Intermountain Histories, accessed June 14, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/217.